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home : people : opinions August 01, 2014

5/10/2013 12:37:00 AM
'Casual, Cursory, Candid, Cobbled Comments'
By Cecil Acuff


A 1950's song goes, "Love and marriage, love and marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage, Dad was told by mother, you can't have none, You can't have one, without the other." But, Food and Technology is a horse of another color! Food and technology aren't supposed to go together in any context but angry scorn. Technology and industry, in unholy collusion with all forms of media, are responsible for most every food ill having anything to do with U.S. childhood obesity. It can be laid squarely at the doorstep of cheap, greasy, fast food and sugary sodas.

The food industry, in large, denatures food, often to sickening effect. Think of "pink slime," the most recent outrage; bits of mechanically stripped scraps extruded into ammoniated fi ller that shows up in school-lunch hamburgers.

The world's largest food company, Nestle, maintains a campus-like research facility near Lausanne, Switzerland. At the center, which includes a pilot plant for manufacturing test batches of liquid and other processed foods, are 350 scientists and 700 staff members. They measure responses to taste receptors on the tongue using a "gustometer," device that looks like an old telephone switchboard. There are with stacks of metal bars for each taste receptor, on a machine which precisely deposits bits of food.

Partly based on gustometer readings, Nestle started making some of its squares with sloped indentations rather than the usual fl at top. This gives a more intense and longer-lasting fl avor by changing the rate at which the squares melt and make contact with the palate.

In the center of what looks like an operating room, a research subject lies on a stretcher with his head encased in a big clear plastic box with tubes coming out of it. The machine gauges how the body burns fat after eating different foods by measuring the carbon oxide a person breathes through his mouth and nose.

There are clinic-type rooms where subjects sleep after eating meals prepared in a high-tech kitchen, and, rooms with exercise to measure performance after eating foods. One lab was a shiny red plastic elastic cap that looked like a shower cap. It's spotted with amoeba-shaped holders for electrodes that measure electrical activity in the brain. In another lab, fl asks of cloudy, light colored liquid are bubbling on stainless steel heaters. Each fl ask contains a different fermented vegetable. It smells like a big sauerkraut maker, which it is. Liquids contain different fermenting agents as lactobacillus, historically used to preserve and fl avor foods as sauerkraut and sausage. This breaks foods, such as onion, garlic, and tomatoes into "fl avor pre-cursers," which may be used to enhance soups and sauces.

An area of experimentation very interest; using enzymes to break down whole grains and cereals into easier-to-digest powders that can be sneaked into foods as cake mixes and light breads in which whole grains would be unpalatably heavy, and also un-expectedly into foods as soups, sauces, puddings, and creamy fi llings already having starch of some kind. Because research is basic, Nestle doesn't yet know which of its hundreds of food businesses will apply its fi ndings; the actual product testing takes in 300 "application"groups around the world.

The "Breaking-of-the night's-fast" food, cereal, is the industrialized food that practically everyone buys. Manufacturers have glad to tout breakfast cereal's wholesome attributes. It has also been the object of ridicule when it has gone too far in saying just how it improves health, especially that of children.

Advertising food for children under 12 is now considered second only to advertising cigarettes to minors. Children are unable, or don't care, to judge what's good or bad for them. Naturally, well-healed companies buying TV time will not spend it telling kids what's good for them. Instead, they laud the highest sodium and sugar foods, which prompts children to impulsively eat unbalanced meals, which sequels into obesity.

Removing sugar is diffi cult. As with sodium in soup and fats in bread, sugar isn't just for taste. It also plays a functional role, affecting food's texture, color, and bulk. Home bakers and cereal makers know that it's often harder to cut sugar than butter or shortening, and so do cereal makers. Cereal maker's strategy: move sugar from inside cereal pieces to the coating, and rejigger the sugar's crystal - all to increase the sweetness sensation while reducing the actual weight of sugar used. The problem is the "bowl life," how long before cereal in milk gets soggy or slimy. People learn when visiting the cereal fl oor of General Mills Headquarters, just how artifi cially fl avored and very sweet many mainstream cereals have become.

General Mills Betty Crocker, an icon that changes every decade or so to suit the times, is committed to increasing whole grains in all the company's products. This came fi ve before the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommended this increase. It has paid dividends: cereal sales have increased. Since 2005, whole grains have increased 40%.

The 350 scientists and 700m staff members in Switzerland tell Americans, and the world, what to eat for breakfast. There may be varying amounts, but all the products have too much salt, sugar, and fat. And, ergo, people all over the world are becoming more obese; more than ever before.

Don't blame General Mills or Nestle. If things were changed to have less salt, sugar, and fat, people would buy something else. Except, of course, those cultures whose diets consist mostly of rice, skim milk, and no-calorie sugar substitutes







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